Marriage program helps families stay together.

Many of the marriages in Kansas end in divorce, and at a rate higher than the national rate.

When those unions do crumble, others children, usually suffer from the collateral damage.

A program that's been in place for five years in Kansas has done its best to reverse the troubling trend toward divorce and its potentially tragic fallout.

Marriage for Keeps, a free program funded by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Healthy Marriage Initiative, was designed to give couples skills to improve their marriage and families.

And married couples do indeed face challenges, from the loss of free time spent together to financial struggles and difficulties associated with raising children in today's complex world.

When it comes to family relationships, such important skills as understanding, respect, cooperation, compromise and negotiation too often don't receive the attention they deserve.

While some couples take advantage of premarital counseling and courses that focus on communication and other skills, even those who've taken such proactive steps find they benefit from continued efforts through programs such as Marriage for Keeps.

The program isn't just for couples in troubled relationships. People in the healthiest marriages would benefit from honing relationship skills, to include something as simple as devoting more time to conversation.

Other benefits of solid relationships: Research shows people in a good marriage tend to live longer, experience less stress and have lower rates of heart disease, diabetes and depression than their single counterparts.

Strong marriages also are instrumental in couples raising healthy, successful children. Sadly, studies show children of divorced couples are more likely to have broken marriages themselves.

A "Love Letters from Kansas" campaign recently was launched to spur more participation in Marriage for Keeps, which already has served about 150 people annually in southwest Kansas. Classes are available for both married and unmarried couples, as well as individuals, and offered in English and Spanish.

It's encouraging to see Marriage for Keeps try to reach out to even more people interested in a stronger relationship at home, and the positive impact it would have on their families and communities as a whole.